Abstract Critical

Explosion! The Legacy of Jackson Pollock

Jackson Pollock, untitled, ca. 1949 © Fondation Beyeler, Riehen, Basel/Jackson Pollock/BUS 2012

Later this week A Bigger Splash: Painting After Performance opens at Tate Modern. You can read more here. abstract critical will be reviewing the Tate show and featuring articles which consider the place of performance within abstract painting. For now, here is the press release and some images from a similar exhibition that was on in Stockholm earlier this year and has just opened at the Fundació Joan Miró in Barcelona.

Yves Klein, Anthropometry, Princess Helena, 1960. New York, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).© 2012. Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence

Kazuo Shiraga painted with his feet, suspended by ropes above the canvas, Shozo Shimamoto hurled paint-filled glass bottles at his paintings, and Niki de Saint Phalle fired a rifle at her panels that she had prepared with balloons of paint under layers of plaster. Explosion! features some 70 works by 35 artists from the period spanning from the late forties to the seventies.

After the Second World War, many artists wanted to start from scratch by attacking painting, which was seen to represent artistic conventionality. Explosion! takes off where modernism ends; when it was so ripe that it was on the verge of exploding. Which it did, in the form of a variety of new ways of making art. Practically every door was opened with an aggressive kick, and a new generation of artists began seeing themselves not as painters or sculptors but simply as artists, who regarded all material and subjects as potential art. That is how the North American artist and writer Allan Kaprow, the man who invented the word “happening”, described the situation in 1956 in his now legendary essay “The Legacy of Jackson Pollock”. Even if doors were opened to all techniques, much of the new art – happenings, performance and conceptualism – sprang from new approaches to painting. There was a development, a shift of focus, from painting as an art object and as representation, to the process behind the work, to the ideas that generate art, and performative aspects.

Janine Antoni, Loving Care, 1992 Performance. Courtesy: the artist and Luhring Augustine, Nova York. Photo: Prudence Cumming Associates

“In Explosion! we want to explore the performative and conceptual elements in painting, and the painterly elements in conceptualism and performance,’ says exhibition curator Magnus af Petersens. The exhibition follows a theme that runs from Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings, via the fascination with chance as a method for creating art, to performance and conceptual approaches. The exhibition presents the Japanese artist group Gutai (1954-1972), which operated in radical ways in the borderland between painting and performance, anticipating many later artistic practices and strategies such as conceptualism, land art and installation. In Europe, they exhibited together with artists from the nebulous artist group Zero, also featured in Explosion! with works by the co-founders Gunter Uecker and Otto Piene.

Lynda Benglis painting a floor with 40 gallons of bright latex and pigments at the University of Rhode Island, 1969 © Henry Groskinsky/ Time & Life Pictures/ Getty Images/ ALL OVER PRESS/BUS 2012

Explosion! shows works by thirty-five artists and comprises paintings, photos, videos, performance, dance and audio works and instructions. Since the exhibition includes action rather than focusing exclusively on painting, performance and documentation of performance are a vital part of the material that is presented, not least the footage of Jackson Pollock, Yves Klein and the group Gutai painting in their performance-like painting acts, which have provoked much artistic controversy. Also controversial were artists like Lynda Benglis, Hermann Nitsch, Andy Warhol and Janine Antoni, who are featured in the exhibition.

Saburo Murakami, Tsuka (Passage), the 2nd Gutai Art Exhibition, Ohara Kaikan hall, Tokyo, 1956 © Makiko Murakami and the former members of the Gutai Art Association. Courtesy: Museum of Osaka University

Explosion! adheres to no particular style or ism, and it is not confined to a geographically limited art scene, but reveals the kinship between apparently unrelated artistic approaches. Explosion! The Legacy of Jackson Pollock is a co-production of the Moderna Museet and the Fundació Joan Miró, and was presented at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm in summer 2012.

Muttsu no ana (Six Holes), 1955/2006. Installation view from Explosion! Painting as action, 2012 © Photo: Albin Dahlström / Moderna Museet


  1. Robin Greenwood said…

    Nice Pollock!